- (Photo: ABC News Screen Shot)
A Maryland-based order of nuns has sent a formal appeal before a federal court in order to be exempted from having to provide contraceptive services to its employees.
The Little Sisters of the Poor filed their appeal Monday before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, requesting an exemption from the Department of Health and Human Services' "preventive services mandate."
The Little Sisters are being represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is handling several legal challenges nationwide to the HHS mandate.
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel with the Becket Fund and lead counsel for Little Sisters, said in a statement that he was "hopeful" that the Tenth Circuit would side with the nuns.
"We are thrilled the Supreme Court temporarily protected the Little Sisters from having to violate their conscience or pay crippling IRS fines. We are hopeful the Tenth Circuit will give them more lasting protection," said Rienzi.
"The federal government is a massive entity that has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people–it doesn't need to force the Little Sisters to participate."
Last September, the Little Sisters filed suit against the HHS over the controversial "preventive services" mandate.
Although the mandate exempts churches automatically under the "religious employers" category, the Little Sisters did not receive an automatic exemption.
"We believe the government's attempt to coerce us in this manner is wrong, and that it violates our religious liberty," stated the Little Sisters last year.
"So, like many other Catholic and religious institutions around the country, we felt the need to seek legal recourse."
Last month, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the Little Sisters a temporary injunction protecting them from the demands of the mandate as their case continued.
"…respondents are temporarily enjoined from enforcing against applicants the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 42 U. S. C. § 300gg-13(a)(4), and related regulations pending the receipt of a response and further order of the undersigned or of the Court," ordered Sotomayor.
The Little Sisters case has garnered its share of diverse opinions, with some believing that the nuns are going beyond the boundaries of religious freedom.
Jonathan Dobrer of the news opinion blog "Friendly Fire" argued that while the nuns had a right to be coerced into directly providing contraceptives, they do not have a right to demand that their employees do not get it elsewhere via health insurance.
"The only fair thing to do is to free all who object to any program on moral or religious grounds from paying anything," wrote Dobrer.
"Sounds great, but of course, it couldn't work. The nature of society is cooperation. The prudent support the improvident and the thrifty balance the profligate."
However, Kirsten Powers, political analyst at Fox News and contributor to USA Today, wrote a column late last month calling for the government to give the Little Sisters "a break."
"Personally, I support the mandate. The government has a compelling interest in providing free birth control. But there are ways to provide it that don't involve harassing nuns," wrote Powers.